Le Mans marshal confusion led to #7 Toyota clutch failure
|By Guillaume Nedelec and Yaroslav Zagorets and Jamie Klein||Tuesday, June 20th 2017, 09:15 GMT|
The failure that struck Toyota's leading Le Mans 24 Hours challenger was indirectly caused by Kamui Kobayashi mistaking an LMP2 driver in the pitlane for a marshal, it has emerged.
Kobayashi, who took the #7 TS050 Hybrid he shared with Mike Conway and Stephane Sarrazin to pole position with a record-breaking lap in Thursday qualifying, held a comfortable lead when he stopped on track with a clutch problem during the 10th hour of the race, just after midnight.
It transpired that the clutch had overheated during a safety car period, when Kobayashi had just taken over from Conway and was sat at the end of the pitlane in front a red light waiting for the train of cars formed behind the safety car to pass.
But the Japanese driver started to go when he saw what he believed to be a marshal instructing him to leave the pits, only to be told on the radio to stop again - in the process destroying his TS050 Hybrid's clutch and setting up the car's demise on the first racing lap once the safety car withdrew.
"Kamui was put in a position where he had to use the clutch with the combustion engine to start," Toyota technical director Pascal Vasselon told Autosport.
"The clutch is not built for this. There was a succession of two or three [failed] starts, and the clutch was done."
The 'marshal' was later identified to be LMP2 driver Vincent Capillaire, whose Algarve Pro Racing team occupied the final garage in the pitlane, close to where Kobayashi was being held.
"On Saturday evening, during the race, I was waiting for my relay, [with my] helmet on the head at my box," said Capillaire in a Facebook statement.
"I wanted to show my encouragement to the lead car, [which was] stopped at [the] red light a few metres in front of my box. It was a spontaneous encouragement.
"I was fined by Stewards for this gesture, and I admit it was inopportune. I regret that."
Speaking to French newspaper L'Equipe, Vasselon added he hoped that Capillaire would apologise to Toyota for potentially costing the team the prize that has eluded it for so long.
"We understood there were no bad intentions in his behaviour, but he did not think about all the consequences of his gesture," said Vasselon.
"I hope at least that he will come to apologise, which for the moment he has not yet done."
LMP2 driver Roman Rusinov, whose #26 G-Drive Racing LMP2 was an early casualty after the Russian driver hit a GTE Porsche, says he understands how Kobayashi would have been confused, having had a similar thing happen to him during qualifying.
"If a hand shows you OK, then you just go," he told Autosport.
"You have very limited visibility inside the car. That's why if you stay in front of the red light and then a guy shows you that you can go, you do exactly what this guy shows.
"Maybe the red light is broken, how would you know?"